If you live in an area where the winter season is moderate but not cold, your garden beds need to be protected during the off-growth season. If this is your first winter season with a dormant garden bed, you may not know how to adequately protect it from weed growth. There are several different ground cover options available, and knowing what your choices are can help you narrow things down.
Planting Cover Crops
Cover crops are a good place to start if you want something natural that will continue adding nutrients to the soil. Things like ryegrass are good for full ground cover, but you'll have to cut it down before the spring thaw so that it doesn't go to seed. Otherwise, it could choke out the soil and invade other areas of the property. When you're ready to plant in the spring, just till the grass crop under and plant as you normally would.
The other option, instead of just a cover crop, is a winter vegetable crop that produces some degree of ground cover. For example, pea plants are a great ground cover. Plant them in the early fall and they'll tolerate the cooler winter. Like ryegrass, just till the remaining growth under before you plant again in the spring.
Straw is an effective tool for covering dormant gardens if you're not interested in planting a crop of any kind. If you cover the whole garden bed with a couple of inches of straw, you can not only block the necessary light for weed seed germination but also provide some insulation for any perennial plants that may be in the soil. This helps to reduce the chances of a particularly cold stretch of weather damaging your perennials. Since straw is organic, you can till it into the soil before planting in the spring and it will provide nutrients to your new crops.
Using Yard Clippings
Clippings of grass, fallen leaves and other materials from your yard can also make great ground cover for your garden space. This reduces your yard waste and allows you to maximize the nutrients in these items. Cut grass, raked leaves and similar trimmings will provide an insulating barrier that blocks weed germination, especially when you spread it several inches thick over the area. Since these things will decompose, you can just work them into the garden soil.
Leaving a dormant garden bed unprotected can lead to weed development that may actually choke out the nutrients your new garden will need. With these tips, you can cover the space through your winter season and prevent weed growth before your spring planting. For more tips, check out sites like http://bourgetbros.com.